How Congress & The White House Are Trying To Screw You Over In Secret With The Revamped USA Freedom Act

from the and-left-everyone-with-no-alternative dept

So we already wrote about how the House completely watered down the USA Freedom Act to the point that it really does very little, leading basically all of the civil liberties community to withdraw their support for the bill. If you want to know a little more about the politics at play, I highly recommend Jennifer Granick’s explanation, in which she notes the unfortunate reality: this bill no longer ends bulk surveillance at all — and, in fact, appears to authorize some things that were previously considered questionable, such as the NSA’s ability to do “about” searches, rather than just “to” and “from” searches (i.e., rather than just looking for emails from or to a certain person, they want access to emails about that person too).

You may have noticed that while all of the various civil liberties groups have pulled their support — they have not urged lawmakers to vote against this bill. While there is some fairly contentious debates going on over whether or not some of these groups should go that far, they’ve basically been painted into a corner. As Granick notes, if the USA Freedom Act doesn’t pass, something even worse is likely to happen:

Reformers are still reluctant to openly oppose USA Freedom. That’s partially because of the specter of the House Intelligence Committee bill, the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act, which would expand surveillance under the mantle of reform. Privacy groups seem whipsawed between the pale appearance of surveillance reform that is USA Freedom and the actual surveillance expansion that is the Intel bill.

In other words, Reps. Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, along with the White House, may have played a game of chess here. They presented their bill, which clearly would make things worse by expanding the NSA’s powers, and used it as a sort of backstop. If a bad USA Freedom Act fails, they’ll try to push their even worse bill through, and much of Congress could just run home to tell angry constituents that they “fixed” the NSA surveillance issue when they really made it worse. They more or less set it up so that people have to accept the lesser of two evils. But neither will do anything to fix the actual problems of the NSA’s overly broad surveillance.

You can almost hear Ruppersberger laughing as he basically laughs off any concern for civil liberties groups, whose importance he couldn’t care less about. Remember, the NSA is headquartered in his district:

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, seemed unconcerned that the privacy activists’ complaints about the changes could lead to a revolt on the House floor.

“This is the way Congress is supposed to work,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, moderates coming together and finding a way to do things that are right for America.”

But of course, this isn’t all of those groups “coming together” or “finding a way to do things that are right.” It’s the opposite. The original bill, the one that actually fixed many of the problems had tremendous support in Congress. Enough to pass. It was (1) Congressional leadership who first watered it down, followed by (2) the House Intelligence Committee undermining the already watered down agreement (which was agreed to unanimously by both Judiciary and Intelligence committees) with demands to further water it down and (3) the White House putting even more pressure on the House to change the bill even though it already had so much support.

So, rather than all these groups coming together, it’s the opposite. They came together, and were then undermined — and the White House is now happy about this. While it had remained silent on these bills for months, it has suddenly come out in favor of the USA Freedom Act, which was weakened down in large part due to pressure from within the White House itself, which never wanted real surveillance reform in the first place.

The whole thing is fairly typical backroom political wheeling and dealing where it’s the public that gets screwed. Even the tech industry, who has been fairly quiet on the bills has finally woken up to the fact that this bill does nothing to end bulk surveillance. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Dropbox, Microsoft and AOL all pulled their own support of the bill, but it’s not going to matter. Chances are the bill is going to pass.

Folks who are actual supporters of civil liberties are quite reasonably angry about all of this. Rep. Zoe Lofgren took to the floor of the House yesterday to decry the situation, highlighting the sheer insanity of the fact that a bill that is supposedly about increased transparency concerning surveillance was changed in secret away from what was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee (and the House Intelligence Committee), to create something that was less transparent.

Perhaps it’s not so ironic that a bill about transparency would be stripped of the transparency features in a non-transparent process. Rep. Justin Amash has noted that he’s “troubled” by what’s become of the bill — and that “Americans expect Congress to protect their basic rights.” Unfortunately, at this point, he may be overestimating what Americans have come to expect of Congress. We may want them to protect our basic rights, but we’ve increasingly learned not to expect it. In fact, we’re increasingly being taught to expect the exact opposite.

If Congress wants to actually change that impression, and show that it actually wants to “do the right thing” or “protect the basic rights” of the public, it should reject this bill and go back to the drawing board (or even back to the original USA Freedom Act).

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Comments on “How Congress & The White House Are Trying To Screw You Over In Secret With The Revamped USA Freedom Act”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

It would be risky, but I think the best plan would be to do everything they can to kill both bills, not just ‘accept’ the lesser of the two and hope that the worse won’t be brought up and voted on regardless.

This is not something where a ‘compromise’ would work, the NSA flat out will not accept anything that actually limits their power or would put any real oversight over them, and they will fight to the pain anything that appears to do so, so those that are supposed to be representing the public should return the feeling in kind, and refuse to bow down to the NSA’s demands.

If they vote for the ‘lesser’ bill, in fear of the ‘greater’ one, they’ll basically be flat out admitting that they are unable, or unwilling, whether due to fear or personal interest, to do anything to reign in the NSA and it’s abuses, and at that point they might as well be working for the NSA directly(as a whole anyway, it’s pretty obvious several of them already are on an individual basis).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Agreed. The civil liberties groups should tell politicians to reject this bill. At least then the others would have to own the fact that they’re trying to pass a bad bill, while passing this one will mislead a lot of people into thinking that they passed a “good bill”. I think that’s worse.

Force them to push the bad bill, so we can rely against them and expose them for enemies of the state that they are. Otherwise they get their way ANYWAY, and they won’t even be blamed for it, because the civil liberty groups gave it IMPLICIT SUPPORT, and then won’t be able to say so effectively that they “weren’t really for it anyway”.

Kill it, and prepare a massive fight against Feinstein’s bill. It’s the RIGHT, non-cowardly/backing into a corner, way to do this.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Exactly. It wouldn’t be easy, but when has doing the right thing ever been easy?

When you did not have to swim against a stream of little green pieces of paper rushing in the direction of lowest integrity.

Political climate change has reached the point of no return, and the greenbackhouse effect is taking its toll.

Anonymous Coward says:

With all these horrible news, can’t we just pull the plug on this world and try over in another iteration?

Rights are gutted left and right.
Powers get expanded.
Authorities get more and more misused and can’t be corrected.

If this was just a dream i at least could hope to wake up, but this seems somewhat hopeless

SuperWittySmitty (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is all part of the Bush legacy- once the power was given to the Executive branch, it’s really hard to take it away. It will take years to get our country back on track after what that administration did to us. Wars, debt, damaged international reputation, and loss of personal freedom- thanks to eight years of conservative rule under Shrub, aka George the Lesser.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It wasn’t just George Bush, though – thye psychology has always been there, since the Revolution. IT’s that the situation is made much worse by special interests corrupting the mechanisms designed to keep a delicate balance between the legislature, the regulators, the executive and the judiciary.

Which is why an Inquisition-esque event is probably necessary. Not good, but necessary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Lets just say where the REAL problem is.

The American Electorate.

Your final say in anything the government does is by serving on a Jury. There you have the Power to stop the Government Cold Turkey in their tracks the abuse and tyranny of the people.

But… how many of you try to get out of Jury duty instead of serving and preventing government tyranny?

Ever heard this line, “People are being judged by people too stupid to get out of jury duty?”

There is a reason the Government makes jury duty as crappy and uncomfortable as possible. So you will just convict people and get outta there. It’s also the reason people just take their damn chances with plea bargains because they have no faith in their fellow citizens because deep down we all know what is wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

The civil liberties groups need to be reminded that we want REAL REFORM. Compromise is not acceptable, especially one where we only get 5 percent of what we REALLY want. Compromise means we accept mass spying to some degree. WE DO NOT!

If they accept this bill, Obama will declare “the spying reform is finished”, and then nobody will talk about it again. We need to keep the discussion going until there is REAL reform. Don’t give in to weaker bills just so we can “win something”, no matter how meaningless that win is.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Get back to us when you are directly affected.

If this was just a dream i at least could hope to wake up, but this seems somewhat hopeless

When friends of yours are missing meals as a consequence of surveillance, when your children are snatched up by the police because of something they said in private, this is the point when people will start waking up.

For now it’s something they can just look away from and hope that it isn’t real, and until they can do that no longer, the people aren’t going to be interested in doing anything about it.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Get back to us when you are directly affected.

Those people will be dismissed as “Socialists,” “terrorists,” or whatever the bogeyman of the day is. That’s how denial works.

Until people are willing to face the truth and take responsibility instead of waiting for someone else to do that for them, this crap will continue. We need structural solutions, not a quick fix.

Anonymous Coward says:

Meanwhile in Thailand

We had a coup.

Military was pretending to broker a deal between both sides, the coup side, Suthep is really a front for the military, so that was never real. At one of the meeting they surrounded the group with soldiers and arrested the government and Suthep. Suthep is more protective custody than anything.

The pro-democracy reds have been arrested, we had a fake poll saying the people were happy with martial law today. You’ll see more fake news like that in the coming days, how excited we all are about the coup. How good the coup is. All hail the coup!

News is 100% censored, no TV, 10pm to 5am curfew. Arrests expected, me included.

Watch the facebook page burntobeamillionaire for real news.

Democracy lost, please call for sanctions before they kill again.

Lesson 101, never lose control of your military.

David says:

Re: Re:

perhaps y’all should start out by making corruption illegal again.

Your devilish plot of making D.C. implode has been noted.

Wait. You did not want to end corruption, merely make it illegal.

Breaking laws, particularly the constitution, is the privilege of the government. Go ahead, make it illegal. It will be a matter of national security not to look who bribes whom. If corruption is made illegal, there will be more money left to pass to politicians rather than bad guys. That makes corruption so much more effective.

It’s like torture: it’s more effective if only the government does it since otherwise people may be prepared for it.

Yes, making corruption illegal would be a win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fuck the Law, Trust the Code

Fuck the law, trust the code. The only way to fix this is not legally, it’s technically. Everyone needs to start using client-side PGP, OTR, TOR, etc. Only once it becomes technically infeasible to spy on everyone will they have to go back to targeted surveillance. I want to see a 300 million person spike in their usage.

Joe says:

Re: Fuck the Law, Trust the Code

Wasn’t there a quote that kind of went like this? “If you use technological solutions to legal problems expect to be disappointed.”

Hand guns and crossbows were the technological solution to kings. Now only people working for leaders are allowed to own projectile weapons in most places. Same thing applies to the printing press and broadcast. European powers were pretty adept at using those during WWII! Voting seems great until you have deliberately high numbers of low-info voters and outright fraud. There’s a reason that there’s not supposed to be an anonymized paper trail for recounts on electronic voting machines.

The solution is (probably?) social, legal, and technical all rolled into one. Just don’t ask me what that is since it obviously hasn’t been invented yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bill of Rights
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Abraham Lincoln
First Inaugural Address
Monday, March 4, 1861
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.

Benjamin Franklin
They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Federal law enforcement officials may tap telephone lines only after showing “probable cause” of unlawful activity and obtaining a court order. This unlawful activity must involve certain specified violations. The court order must limit the surveillance to communications related to the unlawful activity and to a specific period of time, usually 30 days. (Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 USC 2516)

Dan G Difino says:

I thought 'Dutch Ruppersberger' was a cool name.

“This is the way Congress is supposed to work,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, moderates coming together and finding a way to do things that are right for America.”

When exactly has this been good for America? When exactly in recent times has anyone done any good for America?

AMERICA as in North America. Does anyone remember North America? Her riches, her beauty, her loyal citizens..

All I hear is the moaning anquish of our forefathers turning angrily in their graves.

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